Planning a road trip to a ski resort in Europe? Whether you are going to hit the road in your own vehicle or you are thinking about renting a car on the mainland, say, in France, you should be aware of the peculiarities of winter mountain driving. Unlike in the UK, it usually snows heavily on the continent, and especially in the mountains, which makes approaching ski resorts by car challenging and even illegal without winter tyres and, sometimes, snow chains. So what are the requirements for a safe driving in the mountain area and when you need snow tyres, snow chains or both?
Are snow tyres or chains required by law in Europe?
Well, it depends on the country. While winter tyres and snow chains are strictly compulsory during winter months in such countries as Germany, Switzerland and Luxemburg, France’s gendarmerie remains flexible and insists on their usage only during heavy snowfalls. But as you cannot get an accurate weather forecast for the mountain area far in advance, it is recommended that you have both winter tyres mounted on your wheels and snow chains prepared in your car trunk (you only put them on when you see a blue sign showing a wheel with the snow chains fitted). So if you are considering renting a car, make sure that it is properly equipped. If the weather stops you, it’s unlikely that you will easily find snow chains of the required size somewhere in the remote French mountain village.
Winter tyres or snow chains – which solution is more useful? Are they interchangeable?
It is worth mentioning (because many drivers don’t know it) that summer tyres aren’t appropriate for driving to ski resorts during the winter season. You need tyres that are specially developed for driving at low temperatures (soft summer rubber hardens at 7 degrees Centigrade and loses its grip) and deep snow – winter or snow tyres. They remain grippy at near-freezing temperatures due to their unique compound that remains pliant, aggressive tread that evaluates water and tiny sipes that help the tread stay flexible and sticky when on a slippery terrain.
The use of snow tires helps improve traction on snow which is invaluable on mountain roads that usually get treated not so fast (if treated at all). Chains are much cheaper (you only need two chains for the drive wheels) than winter tyres and can be fitted on any kind of tyres except for studded ones. With all these benefits, snow chains cannot be your ultimate comfortable solution because of their limitations:
- You cannot drive faster than 50km per hour when you are in snow chains;
- You cannot use them for a long time on a dry road;
- Fitting them and then removing from your tires is a hard and dirty job.
With that being said, you’ll definitely need a set of snow chains for a piece of a hard snow job, but winter tyres are the only comfortable way to drive when on a ski resort.